Culinary Contest Luncheon
The workload is extremely comfortable around here. With five different groups of students, we are able to use the same lesson plan all week long. On a Friday, this could result in a flawless execution of the lesson or a sick-and-tired-of-this-material drone. Of course we aim for the former.
I am just going to put it out there: we teach for 15 hours a week at the University. I try to take a moment every day to appreciate that this will probably be the most casual workload I have until retirement. That moment usually takes place somewhere between my daily siesta and surfing on Oprah.com.
On the occasion that we have to work a grueling six hour day, we come home completely incapacitated: unlock door and directly plant face on couch. Yesterday was Saturday and I taught for two hours. Now, all this weekend activity has left me with aching eye sockets and the taste of blood in my throat. Before you jump to conclusions regarding my sluggish ways, I should mention that on top of my two hours work yesterday, I also sampled dishes at a culinary competition for Jinan’s most acclaimed chefs.
I think this was more than your average food tasting. Four Americans, including myself, were swept up in a mob of photographers and reporters. We posed with chefs. We posed with food. We gave interviews in which we declared a soup “delicious” or pumpkin turned eagle “absolutely amazing”. The whole situation had me divided. Half of me loved all the attention, one quarter of me did not, and the other quarter just felt embarrassed that we had done nothing to deserve this attention other than simply being western.
Others who attended the competition watched us with their arms folded. I was certain they must have been thinking how ridiculous it all was. I longed for a way to express to onlookers that I knew I wasn’t anyone important and didn't expect to be honored just for coming.
But honor us they certainly did. In a private room, we had an elaborate lunch with the five finalists of the competition, the hotel owner, the event coordinators, and two translators. The food just kept piling up, cicadas, squid, various mushrooms, vegetable balls, boiled peanuts, and a large fish surrounded by squares of tofu. As it usually goes in China, we were encouraged to try everything. “Eat.Eat.Eat,” they told us. The chefs smoked cigarettes and watched us as we ate and ate and ate. Every few minutes someone would stand up and propose a toast. We would all lean into the circular table and reach across with our glass of red wine. To show respect to someone, you hold your glass lower than theirs when the two glasses clink. Quite often, during a toast, two glasses will quickly travel down towards the table, both people unwilling to clink until they are holding their glass lower. When the two glasses finally come together, an inch short of crashing into the lazy susan, there is an exchange of laughter and smiles. “To Chinese friends and Foreign friends” Gambei! “To Chinese cuisine and wonderful chefs” Gambei! “To beautiful women” Gambei!
And then when we had shown our utmost appreciation by way of eating through 11 lbs of food apiece, we were asked “Now, noodles or rice?” It’s traditional to have some noodles or rice at the end of the meal, to fill you up of course